The last five years have seen a boom in the burgeoning theater community in St. Louis. Dozens of new companies have emerged, older companies have re-emerged, and we’ve seen an unprecedented merger between two of the city’s top houses. It would seem like the perfect time to capitalize on the theater boom, and that’s exactly what a small band of actors, directors, professors, and critics have done. Forming the Professional Theatre Awards Council are founders Jason Cannon, a local actor/playwright/director; Steve Isom, local Equity actor; Deanna Jent, a theater professor at Fontbonne University, director and theater critic for The Riverfront Times; Bill Lynch, associate professor of voice and speech at Webster University; and Jerry McAdams, a St. Louis director who has also worked in cities that include New York. Together, they got the ball rolling on what many in the STL theater scene have said is long overdue: an awards ceremony to recognize the massive amount of talent that can be found within the St. Louis metro area.
Originally, the idea was floated around several years ago, but languished in limbo with no driving force behind it. Then after the boom that the scene experienced in the last few years, Isom and Lynch decided it was time to give it another shot.
“Beer,” says Isom. “That was the original inspiration behind the awards. No, actually, it was just good timing. We saw this as a way to help the theater community continue to grow and to bring the community together.”
What the council came up with is an awards program modeled after several other large cities’ theater awards—namely, the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, DC. Seeking a namesake for the St. Louis version, the council didn’t have to look very far for ideas. Home town boy-done-good Kevin Kline was at the top of the list, and agreed right away when asked.
“Kline is the American Olivier. He’s a wonderful stage actor, and he has a career that perfectly combines both stage and screen. And he’s from St. Louis,” Isom says.
With his trademark dry wit and delivery, upon learning of the awards, Kline offered, “I’ve long been under the impression that people didn’t lend their names to awards until after they had died. I’m in pretty good health right now, and feeling all the better for having received this lovely and unexpected honor.”
As it stands, the awards will cover most of the theater offerings in St. Louis. To be eligible, a company must not be a community theater, opera, puppet, or improv group. They must have no less than six performances of a particular show in their season, and must compensate the actors, directors, and stage managers for their time on a scale that is to be determined by the council. The first round of judging will run the calendar year from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2005, with the first awards ceremony to take place in early 2006. Although the criteria doesn’t allow for more fringe-style theater, the council isn’t completely opposed to looking at it in the future. The Board has some latitude to create special awards for these categories, but for right now, their focus is on helping professional working artists in the area.
“The whole purpose of the awards is to foster the gain for actors and directors in St. Louis,” says McAdams. “Right now, the Muny and Shakespeare Festival grab most of the audiences in the area, and it seemed there was no pride of authorship for the other companies. So we hope to show to audiences that there’s a lot more going on in this city than just those two entities.
“Our goal is to help all the houses in St. Louis by recognizing the great work that they all turn out. What we eventually hope to happen because of these awards is that the acting pool will start to run low. It’s really a good thing to have a shortage of actors, because that means that more people are getting work,” Isom said.
Putting together a canon of judges was a task that seemed monumental at first, due to the fact that St. Louis theater is a tightly knit community. But with a revolving list of alternates and checks and balances built in to the system to avoid conflicts of interest, McAdams and Isom feel that the Council has succeeded in putting together a respectable list of nominees that include actors, critics, directors, and patrons from the area.
So, will Kevin Kline himself be on hand for the awards? “His involvement would be great, but at this time, it’s too far in advance to know,” Isom declares.
To find out more about the Kevin Kline Awards, eligibility requirements, and a complete list of judges for the 2005 season, visit www.kevinklineawards.org.